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Homeopathic Research Matters: Homeopathic Remedies - More Than “Just Water”?

Yes! Here’s the scientific evidence!

Water LeafAs homeopathy’s popularity continues to grow, the chorus of critics becomes ever louder. One of the favorite putdowns is: “Homeopathic remedies are just water.” Critics contend that homeopathic remedies are diluted so greatly during the manufacturing process that the source substance eventually disappears, so all that remains is the initial solvent—water. Therefore, homeopathic remedies could not possibly have a medicinal effect, right?

Wrong! Missing in nearly all such criticisms of homeopathy is reference to actual evidence. In fact, laboratory investigation into the physical and chemical (physico-chemical) properties of homeopathic remedies is among the most rigorous in homeopathic research and is being conducted by some of the most skilled scientists on earth. Their findings clearly show that whether or not any molecules of the original source substance remain, homeopathic remedies are definitely different from plain water! Here are a few prominent examples of these research findings.

To understand them, you first need to know the following: Most people are familiar with homeopathic remedies only as tiny white sugar pellets. But the process of making these familiar remedies begins with the dilution and vigorous shaking (succussion) of a given substance in a ­solution of water (and/or alcohol). This dilution and succussion is repeated numerous times in a series until the required potency is reached. The liquid solution is then applied to sucrose pellets, which are bottled and sold as homeopathic remedies in retail stores. The following studies all use the homeopathic liquid solution (prior to medicating the sucrose pellets) in their investigation of the physico-chemical properties of remedies.

Materials Scientists detect unique structures in remedies

In 2005, Rustom Roy (founding Director of the Penn State University Materials Research Lab), along with colleagues Richard Hoover (Penn State), William Tiller (Professor Emeritus and former Chair of Materials Science at Stanford University), and Iris Bell (Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Arizona) published a lengthy paper in the journal Materials Research Innovation.1 While the paper did not present any new empirical data, it demonstrated by referencing a vast repository of materials science literature, that different types of liquid water, although identical in chemical composition, can have important structural differences and therefore different material properties.


Materials Science… What’s that?

Ever heard of “materials science”? In the 1960s, ­universities began renaming their metallurgy departments “materials science.” It is a discipline that combines elements of applied physics and chemistry.

Unlike elementary chemistry, materials science sees the structure rather than composition of matter as primary in determining the physical properties of materials. For example, the hardest material on earth—diamond—has the exact same chemical composition as one of the softest materials on earth—graphite (pencil lead). Both are composed of only carbon, yet they have very different properties.

A great deal of the technology we use in modern life was made possible through the work of materials scientists. Plastics, semiconductors, nanotechnology—all are possible only through materials science knowledge. Nearly every commercial technology in use today has been affected by this science. And material scientists are at the forefront of investigations into the physico-chemical properties of homeopathic medicines.

“This paper brings together a very wide range of disparate observations on water (and other liquids which share one or more structural or bonding parameters) to support the case that water can indeed have its properties and hence its structure changed rather easily in non-linear ways without any change of composition.”

The authors described a number of phenomena resulting from the succussion phase of manufacturing homeopathic remedies, which could cause important structural changes in the solution. These phenomena include epitaxy, pressure generation, and nano-bubble entrapment.

Having established the scientific plausibility of the physical basis of homeopathic remedies, Roy’s team in 2007 published a paper in the journal Homeopathy.2 They presented evidence from their lab demonstrating the ability to distinguish, using standard laboratory measurement technology, between two different homeopathic remedies (Nux vomica and Natrum muriaticum); between the remedies and both plain and succussed water; and further, between different potencies (6c, 12c, and 30c) within each remedy.
The methodology was rigorous: “Nearly 200 runs were made to calibrate every step in the experimental configurations and procedures used for the different instruments.”

To measure the properties of the remedies, they used three different types of spectroscopic devices, two of which turned out to be sensitive to detecting these properties. In the spectroscopic read-outs, the different lines represented different amounts and types of energy radiating from the samples. If homeopathy was “just water,” we would expect all lines to be as one—to converge—as they would emanate the same amount and type of energy; but clearly, they did not. (Interestingly, the succussed water produced starkly different measurements from plain water.)

As the authors concluded: “We examined the structures of many waters and alcohol-based homeopathic remedies. The results show that such materials can easily be distinguished from the pure solvent, and from each other.”

[It is impossible to overstate the stature and influence that the late Rustom Roy had in materials science—a field he shaped significantly. In a career at Penn State spanning more than 60 years, he founded the very first materials science lab in the US there in 1962, later named the top materials science lab in the world by the Institute for Scientific Information. Before his death in 2010, Dr. Roy was a member of the National Academy of Sciences in five countries—the US, Japan, Sweden, Russia, and India—a rare distinction. He was the senior-most member of the US National Academy of Engineering in the field of ceramic materials. A biography on the PBS website said simply: “Rustum Roy is among the two or three active leading materials scientists in the US.”]

Electro-chemists detect differences in remedies vs. water

Vittorio Elia, professor of electro-chemistry at the University of Naples, has been studying the physico-chemical properties of aqueous solutions for over 40 years. He has published 110 scientific papers on the subject, which have been cited by more than 400 authors. For the past 15 years, Elia has used his extensive knowledge and laboratory skills to study homeopathically-prepared dilutions. He and his colleagues have published 23 papers on the topic, nearly all in mainstream chemistry journals.

Beaker leavesIn 1999, Elia and Marcello Niccoli (Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics) published a paper in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences that demonstrated clear differences in physical properties between plain water, succussed and diluted water, and homeopathically prepared solutions.3

They assessed the samples using an established physico-chemical methodology—calorimetry—wherein solutions are mixed with acid and base reagents (i.e., substances used to create chemical reactions) and the resulting heat emissions are measured by a thermal activity monitor. The six sample solutions tested were water and succussed/diluted water (as controls) and four different homeopathically prepared substances (sodium chloride 3c and 30c; and indole-3-acetic acid 7c and 12c). In all, 621 calorimetric measurements were taken—many of these were repetitions to insure accuracy.

The authors concluded: “Despite the extreme dilution of the solutions, an exothermic heat of mixing in excess has been found in about 92% of the [homeopathic] cases, compared to the corresponding heat of mixing with the untreated solvent [water]… because of the absence of solute [original source substance], it can be inferred that the physical-chemical properties of the solvent [water] must be permanently altered by the procedure of successive dilutions and succussions used to prepare the extremely diluted solutions.”

Elia and his colleagues went on to publish numerous papers expanding on the results—using several other techniques to measure the unique and unexplained properties of homeopathically-prepared substances. In a 2007 paper in the journal Homeopathy, they said: “In the last decade, we have investigated from the physicochemical point of view, whether water prepared by the procedures of homeopathic medicine (leading inexorably to systems without any molecule different from the solvent) results in water different from the initial water. The answer, unexpectedly, but strongly supported by many experimental results is positive. We used well-established physicochemical techniques: flux calorimetry, conductometry, pHmetry and galvanic cell electrodes potential…These new experimental results strongly suggest the presence of an extended and ‘ordered’ dynamics involving liquid water molecules.” 4
Elia has continued to study the nature of homeopathic remedies and published many more papers.

Thermoluminescence finds distinctly different “glows”

Swiss chemist Louis Rey has been studying the effects of low temperatures on material and biological fluids for over 50 years. He is an expert on freeze-drying and “low temperature thermoluminescence”—a technique in which substances are frozen down to –196 degrees Celsius, irradiated (by Gamma rays, X-rays, or electron beams), and then re-warmed. During the re-warming process, energy is emitted and measured. This measured data gives information as to the structure and age of the material.

Thermoluminescence is a technique used commonly in materials science, geology, and archeological research. For example, the age of rocks and sand (which have been exposed to cosmic radiation) can be accurately measured by gauging their light emission when rapidly heated.

In 1998, Rey published a paper in the journal Nature, demonstrating the application of low temperature thermo­luminescence to the study of water (H20) and so-called ‘heavy water’ (D20 or deuterium oxide—deuterium being an isotope of hydrogen).5 The data showed two distinct shapes (peaks) of the graphed measurements.

In 2003, Rey published work in Physica A, an important statistical mechanics (physics) journal, in which this technique was used to assess homeopathically prepared substances.6 Rey manufactured homeopathic versions of sodium chloride and lithium chloride in “heavy water” and compared their thermoluminescence to that of plain “heavy water.” Even though diluted to 15c (well beyond the point at which any molecules of lithium chloride or sodium chloride should remain), the graphed shapes of the three samples were each highly distinct.

As the author stated: “Much to our surprise, the experimental results do show—without any ambiguity—that … the thermoluminescence glows of the three systems were substantially different. These findings did prove to be reproducible in the course of many different identical experiments.”

In 2006, a team led by Dutch biophysical chemist Roeland van Wijk (International Institute of Biophysics) attempted to replicate Rey’s findings.7 Not knowing the time lapses used by Rey in between remedy manufacture, freezing, and re-warming, they experimented with various time frames—subjecting different sets of samples to thermoluminescence after 3, 7, and 12 weeks. Significant differences between homeopathically prepared “heavy water” (15c) and homeopathically prepared lithium chloride in “heavy water” (15c) were demonstrated in the sample left for 3 weeks.

Many more such findings

The above studies are just a few of many that have investigated the physical nature of homeopathically-prepared substances; space limitations do not allow me to present them all. Among the most prominent of those not described above include the work of Jean-Louis Demangeat, a French radiologist who has for nearly 20 years assessed homeopathic remedies by means of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy—refining his methods and continually producing strongly positive results.

Similarly robust findings were demonstrated by Nobel Laureate (in Medicine) and 2012 Joint American Homeopathic Conference presenter Luc Montagnier, who measured signature electromagnetic signals emanating from homeopathically-prepared bacterial DNA. Montagnier has reported that his work has been replicated by three other research teams, and the results will be published very soon.

Most recently, Jayesh Bellare (Chair of Materials Science at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay) discovered the presence of nano-particles of source substance in remedies at least as dilute as 200c. Bellare and his team have already refined and replicated their findings and have a long-term systematic plan to investigate every physical aspect of homeopathic remedies and how they act in living organisms—with the goal of demonstrating in precise, testable, and reproducible methods the entire scientific basis of homeopathy.

None of the scientists mentioned in this article (with the exception of Iris Bell, who is a licensed homeopath) were or are involved in the field of homeopathy outside of their research. Each of them explored the subject out of curiosity, with scientific neutrality, and with a high level of scientific skill and rigor. Most of them were genuinely surprised at their findings.

Tell ’em this!

Considered as a whole, the full body of homeopathic physico-chemical research makes a very strong case for the existence of true physical properties of homeopathic remedies. Is the evidence completely conclusive? Probably not, but the positive evidence is strong, and negative evidence is negligible. So the next time you hear someone say, “homeopathy is just water,” tell them the evidence suggests otherwise.

1. Roy R, Tiller WA, Bell I, Hoover MR. The structure of liquid water; novel insights from materials research; potential relevance to homeopathy. Mat Res Innov Online 2005 9-4: 577-608.
2. Rao ML, Roy R, Bell IR, Hoover R. The defining role of structure (including epitaxy) in the plausibility of homeopathy. Homeopathy 2007 Jul;96(3):175-82.
3. Elia V, Niccoli M. Thermodynamics of extremely diluted aqueous solutions. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1999 Jun 30;879:241-8.
4. Elia V, Napoli E, Germano R. The ‘memory of water’: an almost deciphered enigma. Dissipative structures in extremely dilute aqueous solutions. Homeopathy 2007;96:163-169.
5. Rey L. Low temperature thermoluminescence. Nature 1998;391:418.
6. Rey L. Thermoluminescence of ultra-high dilutions of lithium chloride and sodium chloride. Physica A 2003;323:67-74.
7. Van Wijk R, Bosman S, van Wijk E. Thermoluminescence in ultra-high dilution research. J Altern Complement Med 2006;12(5):437-443.


Christopher Johnson, ND

Christopher Johnson, ND, is Vice President of the Virginia Association of Naturopathic Physicians and a graduate of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. He practices in Alexandria, or 703-836-3678